Lawmakers Urged to Plug Leaks From Police Investigations

Law enforcement agencies want extension of law forbidding media reports on contents of investigations.

The attorney general, state prosecutor and head of the police investigations and intelligence division on Wednesday called on legislators to extend the law forbidding the media from publishing contents of interrogations and testimonies. Paragraph 13 of the penal code ("interrogation of suspects") fixes a sentence of up to one year's imprisonment for publishing visual or verbal documentation of a police investigation.

Menahem Mazuz, Moshe Lador and Yohanan Danino would like to see a broader prohibition on the publication of written quotes from interrogations or photocopies of transcripts, they told a meeting of the Knesset's constitution, law and justice committee devoted to leaks from investigations.

Committee chair MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) clarified at the start of the debate that he believed it was necessary to promote legislation that would limit the publication of details about investigations. Ben-Sasson asked Mazuz and Lador about the possibility of making the sub judice law - which deals with forbidding the publication of anything that might affect the judicial process - more stringent. However, both said they are opposed to changes to that law. Mazuz said in the discussion that "it is difficult to think of justification for publishing a quote or a photocopy of an admission. Even though the public has the right to know about the existence of an investigation, that does not justify publishing the complete text."

Lador said that this was sometimes "the most embarrassing and most frustrating issue that we have to deal with... Publications about an interrogation can cause it almost irreparable damage. Sometimes we are not able to secure the cooperation of witnesses or suspects."

The attorney general added that there is a significant difference between publishing a report about an investigation and publishing a document or an exact quote. "Publication is destructive and lethal to the investigation," he said, but added that he was nevertheless "not expressing an opinion."

Danino called for a broader prohibition on publication that would also include publicizing evidence. He cited the example of the publicizing of receipts in the "Rishon Tours affair" that appeared on the front page of Haaretz. "In today's reality, when everything is immediately [leaked], conducting an investigation is becoming almost impossible. The [journalists] take 40 pages of an interrogation and publish them day after day in the press. There is no choice - there has to be a solution anchored in law. The responsibility must be placed on the media." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's media adviser, Amir Dan, has meanwhile responded to Mazuz's decision not to open an investigation into the leaks about the premier's investigation. "It is sad to see that in a country in which even the prime minister can be interrogated, the police are expressly above the law," he said. "They have the right to leak information to suit their purposes, and to disrupt an investigation without having to pay for it."

"The way the police leak information from their investigations has become a scourge in this country, and apparently there is no one in the law enforcement system interested in opening this Pandora's box," Dan added.